What It Truly Means to Be a Contrarian

What It Truly Means to Be a Contrarian


One of the most important tweets I have ever read was composed by entrepreneur and investor Naval Ravikant:

“A contrarian isn’t one who always objects — that’s a conformist of a different sort. A contrarian reasons independently, from the ground up, and resists pressure to conform.”

Evidently, he attempts to define the nature of the word contrarian in a very interesting fashion.


This is a word that is being thrown around (a lot, lately) as a term one can identify with, myself included, and I thought that, since it has become such a potent term in our epoch, I should invest some time in articulating my views on it.


The word contrarian derives from the word contra which means against. Apropos, a contrarian is a person who goes against something. The term is used usually in the investment sphere when one wants to define an investor who buys shares of stock when most others are selling and sells when others are buying.


The contrarian investor is usually the successful investor who knows when to sell and when to buy since the most common trend one will identify in the stock market (or in any other platform of exchange) is that most people follow a herd mentality when it comes to selling and buying.


This is an excellent parallel to every other area of social interplay since contrarians reject to conform with social trends or instinctual responses to social triggers without thoroughly analyzing the factors that led to their ignition.


When most people eschew the responsibility of harmonizing with chaos and the unknown, contrarians will see opportunity in this unfamiliar space and pursue it at all costs.


And it is this pursuit that makes the title of a contrarian so alluring to so many people nowadays. We all want to give titles to ourselves so that others can identify what we stand for and what we represent. We all represent archetypes of some sort and our archetypal characteristics allow us to discover similar-minded people and form tribes that can empower our paradigms.


I cannot really say that the contrarians are a tribe but they are definitely the ones that can push the envelope of the idea of tribal living within all facets of our social echelons.


We are experiencing a powerful paradigm shift in the way our species operate and contrarians are in the forefront of that shift.


In the next paragraphs, you will find a condensed portrayal of the main axioms espoused by the people who usually identify as contrarians. It is an attempt from my side to offer a more holistic representation of the term so that more people can adopt it.


1. Political Labels – The Perpetual Balance Between the Right and the Left


After the last elections in the US, we came to realize that although the fundamental differences between liberals and conservatives are still the same, the line that separates the two ideologies starts to become blurry.


Very few people can identify as completely liberal or completely conservative and that is because the more you gravitate towards the edges of the spectrum, the more totalitarian you tend to become. Even as a leftist, you can embrace most of the anthropocentric principles promulgated by the liberal forefathers, but in order to get the rest of the society to align with your views, you have to enforce them.


The current political system might be flawed, but if we remove the political establishment out of the equation, the way we have decided to operate within a democratic framework is quite efficient.


There is usually a balance between the left and the right and this allows the openness and creativity of the left to coexist with the conscientiousness and the discipline of the right. In a healthy modern society, this becomes paramount. Innovation and introspection on a social scale can only flourish within a balanced environment and only the balance between the left and the right can provide that environment.


A contrarian can see that idea clearly and realizes that although the progress we make within this plane is slow, it is still a progress much more accelerated than the progress witnessed by people in previous centuries.


The average mind is impatient and rigid. It can only see flaws in the system and operates on a perpetual mode of grievance and insecurity.


The contrarian mind is patient and plastic. It sees both flaws and opportunities in the system and operates on a perpetual mode of optimism and confidence.


2. Markets Are Essential and Capitalism Is a System That Can Lead Us to a More Evolved State


There has never been a better time in history for one to understand and, eventually, internalize the notion of economics and markets. The Internet has allowed us to distill complicated terms into explicit concepts and, as a result, improve the way we interact, transact, and cooperate.


A market (as very eloquently Wikipedia puts it) is one of the many varieties of systems, institutions, procedures, social relations and infrastructures whereby parties engage in exchange.


Almost every relationship we form is predicated upon a marketplace and a framework of exchange. Amorous relationships, friendly relationships, business relationships, family relationships.


The romantic (characterized by, or suggestive of an idealized view of reality) aspect of a relationship will always be there because of the way the human constitution operates, but this should be perceived as an aspect quite central to the efficacy of the relationship.


When I form a business relationship with someone, for instance, I am investing social capital that will yield specific returns, but the whole system that we ensemble, throughout our relationship, will prosper only when romantic practices are applied.


The only systems that do not take this parameter into account are totalitarian systems that rely on the ignorance and lack of alternatives for its parts.


That’s why the notion of the market is so powerful.


Within a market, the players can only prosper when the market operates in a state of constant innovation and healthy competition. During that state, all the players continuously attempt to bash ignorance and position themselves as a great alternative. This knowledge allows the whole market (regardless of the number of players in the market) to function harmoniously.


A contrarian realizes the power of a market and sees that capitalism, although it is a system that requires a lot of updates, it can eventually lead us to a more evolved system that operates in accordance with what humans usually want and need.


The average mind will identify capitalism as good or bad. It will assume either that the rich are evil and are taking advantage of the poor or that the poor are lazy and that you either have to become rich or “die trying.”


The contrarian mind will identify capitalism as good and bad. It will assume that it is a nuanced system where different players try to establish better living conditions based on their own self-interest and strengths. It holds the belief that the uninterrupted betterment of the system can lead to a state where all players will be satisfied.


3. Ideological Possession Is a Malady of Our Times and Cult Leaders Are Exploiting the Human Condition


An ideology is a system of ideas and ideals. It usually emerges from the strong desire of a person or a group to offer sagacious interpretations of phenomena that occur in the world around us. Ideologies are omnipresent and absolutely necessary for the proper functioning of our societies. However, ideologies can also lead to friction within the social edifice.


It’s almost impossible for people to form views that totally align. The world and its constituents form a very combustible set of chaotic landscapes and this makes us humans feel exposed, vulnerable and, oftentimes, impotent.


Life is quite absurd, if you come to think about it, and various ideologies choose to ascribe a form of grander meaning to it via fate or divinity or existential importance.


It is a huge responsibility that also demands a lot of cognitive effort to accept that you are not omniscient and that you need to perpetually embrace erroneous practices while hoping that you will, at some point, discover the correct ones.


Ideologies that seem “good enough” to alleviate the burden of that responsibility, become quite attractive to most of us and render the possibility of us ending up as their most loyal supporters quite high.


It is crucial to distinguish, however, that an ideology is neither good nor bad. An ideology is just a set of ideas and its value is predicated upon two things:


  1. The ability of the ideology leaders to allure potential followers into following them.
  2. The willingness of random social agents to follow different ideologies.

As such, the ideology conundrum is a very specific one. Ideological frameworks are based on persuasion and statistics. Just like a product or a service, an ideology demands a niche and a well-articulated marketing plan that will entice that niche into embracing its main principles.


Nowadays, most ideology leaders have realized how this motif works and end up creating ideologies that do not necessarily serve any social purpose, but they definitely allow their architects to profit from them in different ways. Most typical examples are the ones we observe in sports, religions, and politics, but in smaller scales, one can also identify ideologies that are based on more extreme concepts.


For instance, the likes of Alex Jones, David Icke, Roger Stone, and Milo Yiannopoulos, have come to create cult-like ideologies that showcase how one nowadays, via the adaptation of a provocateur persona, can amass huge followings and regard oneself as a cult leader.


Most of these people are astutely aware of how their ideologies work and they just take advantage of the ignorance of their followers who identify them as their representatives and, in some extreme cases, even messiahs.


They use words and phrases that are usually a load of hot air and employ emotional triggers to capture the attention and disorient people from what could be truly valuable for their lives.


A contrarian ought to not succumb to ideologies in a cult-driven fashion and that’s because a contrarian realizes that the search for truth is more important than the adherence to a set of unrealistic and, oftentimes, quixotic belief systems just because the truth might be too painful to accept.


The inflection point in a contrarian’s life will occur when he or she is able to look behind the veil of ideological possession and view the world as a constantly evolving landscape where every idea should be evaluated and transformed in tandem with what each human era demands.


4. A Contrarian Evangelizes Reason over Emotion, Embraces Fear and Evolves Consciously


I have met many people in my life. People from all age groups and people from many cultural backgrounds. Traveling around the world and dwelling, for long periods of time, in major cities, especially in Europe, has allowed me to identify trends and patterns in human behavior that are usually not recognizable to untrained eyes.


The infinite versions of human personalities create an ostensibly bizarre symbiotic relationship between us. We love independence, but we also crave each other so much. This will always be one of the most interesting mysteries and one that will always dictate our lives in so many ways.


Despite the problematic circumstances that this conundrum entails, if one attempts to dive deep into it, one can discover some interesting cues about human behavior.


Firstly, that emotion, although it is a paramount constituent of a tantalizing life, it can also be the catalyst for self-distraction. Emotions, when not properly fathomed and expressed can lead a person astray in various ways and forms.


Secondly, that fear significantly limits human potential. The world is a dangerous place and our fragile make-up hinders us from navigating with assertiveness throughout the never-ending labyrinths that appear on our way. Fear is born usually out of a lack of responsibility. If one’s environment favors dependency instead of personal responsibility, one will always choose security to the unknown.


Thirdly, that the theory of evolution is prevalent in most facets of our experience. Everything changes and entropy increases. The change and the reason behind the change, when properly defined in a way that serves one’s purpose, can lead to tremendous results in the way one harmonizes with the world around us.


These might be mere observations and probably constitute only a fraction of what our humanity really hides, but they also reveal fundamental truths about our beings.


A contrarian embraces such practices and welcomes them as the advent of a new era in his or her own story. When reason prevails over emotion, when fear is bashed via responsibility and when evolution commences in a seamless fashion, the constant exacerbation of our experiences will seize and the flourishing of human potential can institute monumental changes in the way we coexist.


In Closing


Stereotypes assert that age leads to wisdom. That is far from true. Age doesn’t necessarily lead to wisdom, experience and conscious living does.


We don’t need to add years to our experience. We just need to densify the time we have left in this reality by making sure that each moment is lived consciously –  and this can be accomplished via a maneuver that seems simple but is actually quite significant: by starting to notice all that we have as yet only seen.


A contrarian can notice what others just see.


The best way to live your life as a contrarian is by challenging yourself on a daily basis. In “30 Challenges-30 Days-Zero Excuses” ebook, I have collected the most interesting challenges, inspired by renowned individuals, that aim to help you reinvent the way you approach life and focus on adopting physical, spiritual and mental practices that are not only feasible but also enjoyable and meaningful. You have nothing to lose and so much to gain. You discover the challenges here.


Also, don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter to get my articles in your inbox on a weekly basis. It is thought-provoking, free, easy to unsubscribe and some great resources will wait for you once you confirm your subscription:

Featured Image © Leonardo Ugalde.

Adrian Iliopoulos

I am the founder and main contributor at "The Quintessential Mind" - A unique personal blog that offers a holistic approach to self-development. I am striving to create high-quality content by investing in a reality-based form of self-help, informed by a deep understanding of psychology, philosophy and my own personal experiences and social adventures.
Adrian Iliopoulos